How Postmillennialism Changed Missions Forever.
To the man-on-the-street believer to speak of “postmillennialism” means next to nothing; like talking about taking a vacation trip to Saturn. Yet, its impact on the movement of world missions for over 200 years is untold. It has indeed worked like “leaven” and secretly mixed itself into the dough and infected the whole loaf. We cannot speak about missions today, anywhere in the world, without unknowingly promoting postmillennialism.
A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. (Gal 5:9)
In a nutshell postmillennialism is the belief that the world will be evangelized by a triumphant church and then Jesus will come again, to take up his throne in Jerusalem. It is an optimistic reading of the Bible to say the least. (Premillennialism, its counterpart, considered by many to be too pessimistic, believes that the world will grow more and more evil, like “in the days of Noah”, and Christ must come back to a world in chaos and conflict.)
For a more complete definition of postmillennialism I offer this from one of its adherents:
Postmillennialism looks for a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of a glorious age of the church upon earth through the preaching of the gospel under the power of the Holy Spirit. It looks forward to all nations becoming Christian and living in peace with one another. It relates all prophecies to history and time. After the triumph of Christianity throughout the earth it looks for the Second Coming of the Lord. (J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory)
Now I am sure you are thinking that “I don’t believe that all nations will become Christian” yet at the same time you have strong convictions that the world will end with a victorious Bride “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (Eph. 5:27) and that one day “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord” (Phil. 2:10) in your city, nation or continent.
You wholeheartedly believe in a generation that will “transform the nations”. Such optimistic book titles seem to you to fit right:
Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (Mathison)
Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism (Bahnsen)
He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology (Gentry)
As the Waters Covers the Sea
So what do you really believe? Are you optimistically waiting for that golden age, promised in the Old Testament when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab 2:14) “Jesus left us His Spirit and that is more than enough”; and that is as far as you have thought this issue through!
I suggest that you are part of the “whole loaf” that has been impacted by the leaven of postmillennialism. For starters, please note that the acknowledged “father of modern missions”, William Carey, was a postmillennialist. A little known fact yet undisputed.
William Carey (1761 – 1834) was an English Baptist missionary and minister and is, by all accounts, known as the “father of modern missions.” He was one of the founders of the Baptist Missionary Society, was a Calvinist and a postmillennialist. (Wikipedia)
Not only was Carey a postmillennialist, believing in a glorious golden age of the Gospel in all nations, he was just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, pretty much anyone and everyone in the birthing of modern missions was one as well:
“Author Iain Murray (The Puritan Hope) has further demonstrated that the notable missionaries and mission leaders, Alexander Duff, David Livingstone, Henry Martyn and Henry Venn, were Calvinists and Postmillennialists. Murray notes that Postmillennial expectations can be heard in the addresses accompanying the founding of the London Missionary Society in 1795, the New York Missionary Society 1797 and the Glasgow Missionary Society in 1802. The same view influenced the Church Missionary Society in 1799. The London Missionary Society, an Anglican equivalent of Carey’s Baptist mission, expresses Calvinistic Postmillennialism in all its documents.” (Dr. Schirrmacher, “William Carey, Postmillennialism and the Theology of World Missions”)
Truth be told, it was EASIER to recruit for world missions if one’s theology included a large reaching Gospel impact, a great tree with its branches spreading over the whole world, where all nations are discipled, and all nations become Christian, so that Christ could return.
At this time, the prophetic parables of the kingdom of heaven (Mtt. 13) came into their postmillennialist focus. No longer was the mustard seed becoming a great tree with evil birds in its branches a symbol of corruption in the kingdom, it was now interpreted that the birds were believers in all the nations. Similarly, no longer was leaven an evil, rotting influence that created hypocrisy and false teaching, it now became the secret, viral influence of the Gospel reaching all nations.
Author Mark Shaw has confirmed this “shift in missions theology” on the continent of Africa:
At the heart of these evangelical revivals were three powerful convictions. The first was the centrality of the death of Christ for salvation. A second was the necessity of the new birth. The third was a new eschatology that envisioned the spread of Christianity around the world as a prelude to Christ’s personal return. (Mark R. Shaw, The Kingdom of God in Africa)
My advice is to start where Jesus started!
Do you see the trend? Do you see how a “new” interpretation came to fit one’s belief system? Do you know which side you are on? Have you made up your own theology through the years that is pretty much “created in your own image”?
My advice is to start where Jesus started! Don’t read a book on the subject. Don’t go to a conference about End Times and Eschatology. Go back to the beginning and read it again! Start with Genesis and read through until Revelation and see if your heart will “burn within you” as Truth impacts your soul. Let the Spirit of God translate and expound the passages for you. Come with an open mind and heart, free of any preconceived doctrines.
Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures… They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24: 27, 32)